Top Non-Fiction of 2017

Hey bookies! It’s time to share my favorite reads of the year. This will books that I read this year, not books that were first published in 2017. There were a few that were rereads, but I pulled them out, so this is books that I read for the first time this year. They are in no particular order, just  as I found them in my list.

Three Singles to Adventure by Gerald Durrell. This one took me a bit to read because I only had one copy of it, but it was so funny and entertaining. It’s a memoir of Durrell’s time collecting specimens for zoos and museums. Great because I could pick it up and jump right in to a different world.

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March by John Lewis, et al. In this graphic novel, Congressman John Lewis writes about his experiences with the Freedom Riders during 1962-1963. Powerful and especially timely. This one refers to the 2nd in the 3 book series.

Both of those are 5 star reads. These are 4 star reads. Still extremely good.

 

Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, & a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories by Simon Winchester. Lots of stuff packed in here, from Winchester’s own travel experiences to natural history and geology to commerce and all kinds of other fascinating stuff.

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. Great story of determination and daring. Loved this look at early aviation.

American Colonies: The Settling of North America by Alan Taylor. Comprehensive look at the early United States before it became a country. Most complete of any book on the subject I’ve read and very readable.

The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 by Rick Atkinson. A sobering look at the realities of World War II. At times depressing, but worth reading all the same.

 

 

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The Zookeeper’s Wife: A Review

This is an encore review; it appeared earlier online.

Title: The Zookeeper’s Wife

Author: Diane Ackerman

Summary:

When Germany invaded Poland, Stuka bombers devastated Warsaw—and the city’s zoo along with it. With most of their animals dead, zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski began smuggling Jews into empty cages. Another dozen “guests” hid inside the Zabinskis’ villa, emerging after dark for dinner, socializing, and, during rare moments of calm, piano concerts. Jan, active in the Polish resistance, kept ammunition buried in the elephant enclosure and stashed explosives in the animal hospital. Meanwhile, Antonina kept her unusual household afloat, caring for both its human and its animal inhabitants—otters, a badger, hyena pups, lynxes.With her exuberant prose and exquisite sensitivity to the natural world, Diane Ackerman engages us viscerally in the lives of the zoo animals, their keepers, and their hidden visitors. She shows us how Antonina refused to give in to the penetrating fear of discovery, keeping alive an atmosphere of play and innocence even as Europe crumbled around her. 

My review:

I was really impressed by this book. It’s the story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski who hid Jews in their villa on the zoo grounds in Warsaw, Poland. Some heart-wrenching stories in there. What made it even more amazing is that it is a true story. Most of the book is taken from the diary that Antonina kept during the war, so we get a close look at how she felt. The descriptions of how fear affects you were really well done. The only thing I didn’t like about the book is that I didn’t really find out what happened to Jan and Antonina after the war or how the diary came to be found.

Paving the New Road: A Review

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions, however, remain my own.

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Title: Paving the New Road (Rowland Sinclair mysteries #4)

Author: Sulari Gentill

Setting: Australia then Germany 1933

Summary:

It’s 1933, and the political landscape of Europe is darkening.

Eric Campbell, the man who would be Australia’s Führer, is on a fascist tour of the Continent, meeting dictators over cocktails and seeking allegiances in a common cause. Yet the Australian way of life is not undefended. Old enemies have united to undermine Campbell’s ambitions. The clandestine armies of the Establishment have once again mobilised to thwart any friendship with the Third Reich.

But when their man in Munich is killed, desperate measures are necessary.

Now Rowland Sinclair must travel to Germany to defend Australian democracy from the relentless march of Fascism. Amidst the goosestepping euphoria of a rising Nazi movement, Rowland encounters those who will change the course of history. In a world of spies, murderers and despotic madmen, he can trust no-one but an artist, a poet and a brazen sculptress.

Plots thicken, loyalties are tested and bedfellows become strange indeed.

My review:

I must admit to knowing little or nothing about Australian politics, but I know a good thriller when I read one. Rowland Sinclair and his group of friends have been sent into the very heart of Nazi Germany to put a stop to an Australian politician’s nascent friendship with Adolf Hitler. While there, Rowland want to discover who murdered the last guy sent on the same errand. Along the way he meets lots of historical figures caught up in the same pre-war frenzy. Famous names aside, the real thrill was in seeing whether they would all escape Germany alive. A real page-turner.

This was the first book I read by this author and I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more if I had been more familiar with the characters and their backstory. However I was able to jump in and sort things out, so I’m glad I got chosen for it. I can say it won’t be the last I read by this author! Recommended.

Thursday Throwback – loved it!

25810271Woman with a Blue Pencil

Reading Decathlon, book 2

Title: Woman with a Blue Pencil

Author: Gordon McAlpine

Genre: literary mystery

Themes: racism, war, patriotism, stereotypes, love

Setting: Los Angeles/California 1941

Source: Found it on Goodreads/Library

Story: Is it about Sam Sumida, Japanese American looking for the murderer of his wife? Is it about Jimmy Park, Korean American, hunting for an evil Japanese mastermind intent on destroying America? Is it about William Thorne, recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor and father of four, writing spy thrillers under an assumed name? Is it about Takumi Sato, young Nisei confined to a camp in California with an ailing father? Or is it about the woman with the blue pencil, who manipulates them all for her own gain?

The answer is yes, it’s about all of these and more. It’s about the power of narrative to sustain us through the most difficult times in our lives. It’s about the drive to honor our truth, no matter what the cost.

I can’t recommend this strongly enough. It’s a puzzle and a book and a triumph. I wish I had written it. 5 stars.

Band of Brothers – Review

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Encore review

Title: Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne

Author: Stephen E. Ambrose

Genre: History, WWII

This non-fiction book is the basis for the TV miniseries of the same name. It focuses on an American paratrooper company, the first of its kind, and takes them right through World War II. It highlights some of the soldiers and officers and gives an account of them through every action. Their first battle was on D-Day and they stayed in the center of things in Europe right through V-E Day and beyond.

Some things the book did well. For the first time, I really understood why so much looting occurs after a battle. It also gave a really good picture of how this company became so close and why that is important for survival during a battle.

However, the names and places sort of all blurred together in my mind. Major Winters was one exception, but for the most part, I had a hard time telling the soldiers apart. I liked the ‘Where Are They Now’ section in the back, but what would have really helped would have been more pictures. Same with the places. I am not strong on geography, and some of these places were pretty small. I don’t know why they didn’t include a single map, but it was a major oversight.

The story got me interested enough to do a little research on my own. I found that this book is a little controversial – not everyone involved felt it was an unbiased account, and some felt that Ambrose’s scholarship was a little sloppy. However, it was a good story and now I’d like to read more from some other writers about their own experiences. Recommended, but it could have been a better book.

Review: Band of Brothers

Encore review!

Title: Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne

Author: Stephen E Ambrose

This non-fiction book is the basis for the TV miniseries of the same name. It focuses on an American paratrooper company, the first of its kind, and takes them right through World War II. It highlights some of the soldiers and officers and gives an account of them through every action. Their first battle was on D-Day and they stayed in the center of things in Europe right through V-E Day and beyond.

Some things the book did well. For the first time, I really understood why so much looting occurs after a battle. It also gave a really good picture of how this company became so close and why that is important for survival during a battle.

However, the names and places sort of all blurred together in my mind. Major Winters was one exception, but for the most part, I had a hard time telling the soldiers apart. I liked the ‘Where Are They Now’ section in the back, but what would have really helped would have been more pictures. Same with the places. I am not strong on geography, and some of these places were pretty small. I don’t know why they didn’t include a single map, but it was a major oversight.

The story got me interested enough to do a little research on my own. I found that this book is a little controversial – not everyone involved felt it was an unbiased account, and some felt that Ambrose’s scholarship was a little sloppy. However, it was a good story and now I’d like to read more from some other writers about their own experiences. Recommended, but it could have been a better book.